Five tests to measure how well the occupying powers are doing in Iraq

Does it matter that the coalition hasn't found the weapons of mass destruction on which it based its right to wage war?
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The Independent Online

We've been hearing much this week about key economic tests and the euro. So I have borrowed a leaf from the Chancellor's book and tried to apply the methodology of key tests to Iraq. The idea is that by the end you can make up your own mind about the current state of Iraq. The tests are by no means exhaustive. You will notice I have left the role of the United Nations, Europe, and quite a bit else, out of the equation.

So here is the first test: Is Iraq basking in the afterglow of regime change? Definitely not. Hundreds of people are dying in lawlessness in the capital city because, the UN tells us, health facilities are in a catastrophic state, because basic services have still not been restored, because the man sent to administer Iraq wasn't up to the job, because the occupiers are short of manpower, and because if there were a plan for the occupation nobody in charge seemed to know what it was.

It does need saying (for we can forget it too easily) that the people are delighted to be rid of the monster. Nor would he have been overthrown without foreign intervention. But Iraqis also remember that when they tried to get rid of him in 1991 the West stood by while tens of thousands of them were slaughtered. The welcome was always going to be cautious.

So far, the occupation has been a mess. I watched moving footage of a small girl being transferred by the military to Kuwait for treatment. She is one of thousands of such children. Why was she going? Because the local hospital had been looted. I was in Iraq just after Saddam fell, during some of the worst of the looting. I'm astonished that it is still going on in parts of the city. La loota continua, as it were. The Geneva conventions oblige occupying forces to protect civilians from harm. It is not happening.

The US might defend itself from such charges by saying that it is doing all it can to deal with the crisis. But it is not a defence that stands up to scrutiny. Doing all that can be done means getting more troops – insiders say the military is two divisions short in Iraq – to provide security.

George Bush spoke before the war about people being entitled to justice for the crimes committed under Saddam. This week the evidence that would help to prove the case against the dictator was being pulled from the ground near Hillah. But there were no American troops to protect the site. I watched US troops protect sites in Bosnia and help to bring the perpetrators of massacres there to justice. Why can't they do the same in Iraq?

The second test provides slightly more cheering news: Has Iraq descended into vicious civil war between ethnic/religious groups? The answer is in the negative. The presence of American troops and air power has undoubtedly acted as a deterrent. Up north, the Kurds are getting on with running their own lives. The Shia have not turned on the Sunni despite decades of subjugation. The score-settling against former Baathists has been nothing as bloody and terrible as might have been expected. But let's be careful here: these are the early days when different groups and factions are sizing up each other and the Americans. What we do know is that the population is armed to the teeth. No attempt has been made to dismantle or disarm militias. My sense is that the various factions are biding their time.

I spoke to an academic friend the other night who specialises in Iraq. "I think they have a three-month period of grace to get things together," I said. "Do you really give it that long?" he replied. "I think trouble will kick off much sooner."

Which leads us to the third test: Has the US been sucked into a brutal guerrilla war? Again, the answer is no. The Kurds are by far the most militarily organised group and have no interest in attacking the US. So count the north out of the equation for the moment. But don't feel too reassured. It is in the centre and south that the threat to the US presence is growing.

The leaders of the Shia groups have watched the US response to the lawlessness in Baghdad and taken note. One of the things they may have concluded is that America doesn't want to get into fighting with armed hit-and-run groups. Popular resentment to the US presence is increased by the failure to act against looters and bandits. The Shia clerics do not represent anything close to a united front but that can change quickly. Any failure by America to put the Shia leaders at the heart of negotiations for a new political order will produce unity very quickly. My sense is that the Shia political groups are re-organising themselves to deal with the changed political reality. They don't like America, they hate Israel and they have massive popular support. Some day soon they will make their move.

For the fourth test, we come back home: Does it matter that the Allies haven't found the weapons of mass destruction upon which they based their right to wage war? To the Iraqis it's a bit late in the day for worrying about the reason they were invaded. But it does matter at home. We were told the war was about preventing weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands. Nobody in the Foreign Office, the Secret Intelligence Service or the military really believed Saddam himself was going to launch weapons against British forces in Cyprus. The argument was that the anthrax or sarin could be given to some of Osama bin Laden's men, or people like them, for use in New York or London.

The weapons would have to be found and destroyed. Now that they haven't been found we are told it doesn't matter. But if they existed and represented a mortal threat under Saddam, why are they any less of a threat now? Numerous members of Saddam's inner circle are still at large. If it is possible to smuggle priceless art works out of Iraq why not WMD? We must assume some among the surviving Baathists know where the materiel is hidden. What's to stop them passing it on to terrorists or using it to attack coalition forces in Iraq?

Which leads us very naturally to the fifth and final test: Has the war made the world safer from terrorism? Resist the urge to use the Saudi bombings as proof that it has made things worse. They were probably planned long in advance of the war on Iraq and would likely have happened whether Saddam was attacked or not. Perhaps the better way of asking the question is to wonder whether the West is now more or less hated in the Arab world?

I can only tell you what I encountered in Amman, Cairo and Beirut: bitter and widespread resentment of London and Washington. But – and it is a very important use of the conditional – all need not be entirely lost. To mitigate some of the rage, America could adopt an even-handed and truly energetic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and get serious about helping to create a just and stable order in Iraq. Which is where we came in. You can add several more tests to the list if you wish but it doesn't take genius to see where things might be heading.

The writer is a BBC Special Correspondent

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